Terrorism Update
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Working Paper

The primary objective of this seminar is to explore new perspectives on the multiplicity of conflicts in India’s Northeast, and to assess the efficacy of conventional wisdom and past policies that have been applied to the resolution of various problems in the region. The intent is to identify alternative and practicable options and actors that can facilitate local as well as generic processes and programmes of resolution. The seminar seeks to bring together serious students of the subject who would write on hitherto unexplored themes and provide fresh insights to the known nuances of terrorist movements in the region, backed by hard documentary evidence.

Contemporary insurgencies in India’s Northeast seek their justification in a wide range of factors, including perceived injuries by a distant Centre, grievances based on apparent economic deprivation or the neglect of ethnic aspirations, and the destabilisation of existing demographic equations. Some of these insurgent movements have remained localised affairs, while others have established parallel structures of governance in some areas, extracting ‘taxes’ and administering ‘justice’. Why have some of these movements succeeded in effectively replacing institutions of the state? Is it a ‘withdrawal of the state’ or ‘appropriation by private interests’? What measures does are available to restore peace? Within this context, what are the concrete steps that the civil society can undertake to contain the violence and to remind the state of its obligations?

The presence of a multiplicity of militant groups in the field, with divergent and often conflicting aspirations, makes the issue of conflict resolution a seemingly never-ending task. As a result, peace initiatives with some of the groups often fail to restore order as other formations escalate violence.

The more successful of the insurgencies also serve as examples for other movements that are still in their infancy. Growing inter-group and trans-national linkages between various insurgent movements, have added a new and disturbing dimension to the conflict. Foreign assistance, in terms of finance, arms, training and safe havens, has made many of the terrorist groups mere instrumentalities in a proxy war waged against India by sponsoring states. Within this context developments such as the decimation of a particular group, or a negotiated settlement with another, are less likely to produce a durable peace. Experience suggests that, more often than not, truce with the insurgent groups has been tenuous and a great degree of sagacity is required to transform it into durable peace.

A complex web of collusion between terrorist groupings and over-ground entities, legitimate businesses and political parties and actors has also been established over the years, creating multiple obstacles and contributing to a high level of unpredictability in processes of conflict resolution.

By and large, the entire range of conflicts, and successes or failures in the war against terrorism, have now come to be measured by the numbers of casualties in various categories, orchestrated mass surrenders, numbers of incidents, and other indices linked to the unceasing bloodletting in the region. While these elements are inescapable, they cannot exhaust the complexity of variables that influence the ongoing violence, and the possibilities of resolution.

There have been repeated efforts, and some research and writings, to deepen the debate on the cycles of violence in the Northeast, and these have sought to focus on the possibilities of economic interventions, developmental programmes and social action to stem the tide. By and large, however, the discourse has followed a predictable pattern, imposing extraneous models and preconceptions, enormously distanced from the ground situation. On the other hand, there has been some literature produced from the region itself. This latter stream holds promise, but has tended to lack the rigour and objectivity that can help take the discourse forward into productive areas of documentation, thought and resolution.

The main objective of the seminar is to explore entirely new themes - or explore a radical perspective on existing themes. A chronological record of known events, arguments and perspectives that are already well established, and policy options are now part of the established discourse are to be avoided, or subjected to a critical scrutiny from a unique perspective. Some possible themes that may be treated are listed below, but participants would be welcome to identify their own subjects as well.

  1. Ethnicity & Identity: Is Autonomy a Solution, or Part of the Problem* – Increased autonomy for ethnically defined areas and groups has frequently been proposed as a solution to problems of insurgency, and this is a policy that has actually been implemented in several case. The experience is ambivalent, and, in each such ‘solution’ a multiplicity of other sub-groups discover new oppressions and new reasons for their own demands for the creation of further autonomous sub-divisions. The spiral of violence, consequently, remains intact, even as administrative practices and conditions within existing autonomous areas fail to show any dramatic improvements. It is now time to make an objective reassessment of specific experiments in autonomy, and of the ideological and political soundness of this ‘solution’ within the context of past experiences.

  2. Exploring Political and Criminal Terror in India's Northeast (or in specific States in the region)* – Almost all insurgent or terrorist groups engage in criminal activities that lie outside the scope of the ‘revolutionary’ actions that their political objectives mandate. Increasingly, as the size of these groups and the scale of their organisation and activities grows, they are involved in a range of criminal, illegal or quasi-legal activities that have no connection with their ideological objectives. The most obvious example is the ‘kidnap industry’ that flourishes in Tripura, but all insurgent groups in the region engage in a wide range of such activities. The documentation and analysis of the dynamics of the underground economy of terrorism is a critical precondition for effective policies for the restoration of peace and developmental activities.

  3. The Crisis of Command: The Collapse of Institutions in Terror:* The breakdown of normal administrative structures, as well as of the range of non-governmental, civil society and socio-economic institutions under the onslaught of terrorism is a characteristic feature of all theatres of conflict in the country. The restoration of the institutions of civil governance, consequently, is a major challenge. Conventionally, this has been attempted only on a limited scale in conditions of widespread disorder, and the general orientation has been to wait for the restoration of order through police or military action before the mechanisms of civil society and governance are revived. This is an error that contributes to the persistence of political violence, and methods, agents and programmes that can help restore the civil administration and socio-economic institutions need urgent attention.

  4. Multi-Force Operations in Counter-terrorism:* Most theatres of low intensity conflict in India witness the induction and operation of more than one force in counter-insurgency operations. A variety of models – including the ‘Unified Command’ – have been applied, with no more than limited success. Effective and efficient structures of cooperative command can create enormous force multipliers in these circumstances, even as inter-Force friction can undermine and defeat the common purpose of counter-insurgency Operations. There is a need to assess the efficacy of existing Multi-Force Command systems and explore alternatives.

  5. Negotiating with Terror: Settlements and Principled Settlements* – The state is, today, entering into a wide range of negotiations with terrorist and insurgent groups, and many of these lie outside the scope of Constitutional governance and of the rule of law. What is the impact of the ethic of expedience and the opportunistic settlements that are reached with individual terrorist groups on the larger conflict, and on the potential for terrorism by other agents and in other areas? Do such negotiations ‘reward’ successful terrorist leaders, and does this create a demonstration effect among potential imitators? And if opportunistic settlements lie outside the scope of a moral and stable political order, what are the contours of principled negotiations and settlements with extremist groupings?

  6. Justice in Terror: The Performance of the Judiciary in Situations of Terror – The breakdown of justice system, and the near complete absence of prosecutions and convictions in terrorism related cases is a characteristic feature of all theatres of terrorism in India. What are the dynamics and magnitude of this breakdown? And how can the psychological link between (terrorist) crime and punishment be restored?

  7. Implications of changed demographic equations as shown by Census 2001* – A common thread that runs between many of the insurgencies in the Noretheast has been the ‘foreigner’ issue. Most arguments in this context have drawn sustenance from Census statistics in the past. What are the implications of the provisional figures of the Census 2001?

  8. Organisational cross-linkages within the region’s insurgent and terrorist groups – The nexus between terrorist organisations, both within the region, and across international borders, results in an enormous advantage and the augmentation of the capabilities of individual groups. The documentation and analysis of the character and pattern of existing and potential linkages between ideologically similar or divergent groups needs attention and analysis.

  9. Collusive Overground and Underground Movements* – Paul Wilkinson has recently written of the "huge dangers posed where terrorists cleverly combine politics and the threat or use of force." There is enormous need to document, to the extent possible, the many examples of such a combination of legal, quasi-legal and terrorist campaigns, and to define the unique problems that confront a democratic state that tries to deal with co-ordinated movements of terrorist violence and ‘legitimate’ political protest within the ambit of the law.

  10. Revolutionaries or Warlords: Profiles of Terrorist Leadership* – The activities in which the leadership of various terrorist/insurgent groups participates, or that it sanctions, are often at great variance with the political and ideological postures that they seek to project. Indeed, recent patterns of alliance between ideologically incompatible militant organisations in the Northeast, and the execution of a number of terrorist operations that conflict with the basic premises of these movements, have raised crucial questions regarding the basic character of such leadership. Are these really revolutionaries, fighting for a coherent ideology and on behalf of a specified and identifiable segment of the population, or are they warlords, defending their ‘turf’ by all means necessary?






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